What is “shift work” and what are the risks?
Due to the complexities of our modern world, we would not be functional without the individuals who willingly volunteer to take these difficult positions. Health care, public safety, and transportation workforces, as well as other services requiring 24-hour access/ service, are all industries that require shift work.
Though there is no formal definition for it, “shift work” is usually defined as anything outside of the typical “9-5” work day and, although this can seem harmless in the beginning, it can be extremely taxing on your mental, emotional, and physical state. Speaking from a psychology lens, I cannot stress enough the importance of understanding the intricacies of how shift work can impact your mental health.
When humans disrupt their natural circadian rhythm, it can create both immediate and long-term physical, mental, and emotional changes that can manifest in a variety of issues. A recent study highlighted the severity of how this interruption in our lives can leave individuals at higher risk for cardiovascular disease, stroke, obesity, gastrointestinal issues, pregnancy complications/reduced fertility, and various types of cancer.
Individuals are also more prone to psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety, and alcohol abuse, in addition to increased social challenges such as poorer quality of life due to the difficulty associated with creating a stable and predictable environment. This can greatly impact interpersonal relationships including spouses and children, siblings and parents, and friendships (source).
How to soften the impacts of shift work.
Self-care. Essentially, it all comes down to this.
Albeit difficult, trying to get enough sleep will be at the top of this list: creating a relaxing environment in your bedroom will be paramount, so ensure you are checking your surroundings for anything that could be added or changed.
Eating a healthy diet and creating an exercise routine can help mitigate the physical impacts of shift work as well. Maintaining an open discussion with your doctor about the long-term physical risks and how they may be able to support you through these issues.
Finally, seek a therapist to support you with any mild-severe depression or anxiety symptoms, or if you are faced with considering a career change and need extra support during the decision-making process.
How do you support a shift worker?
Check in regularly. It is important to remember that, as humans, if something is out of sight it is usually out of mind. By taking a more proactive approach, for example checking in frequently, supporting them, and modeling your vulnerability, you will normalize talking about mental health and seeking help.
This is foundational—it is not always possible for you to know when someone is suffering, but supportive and safe work and social environments for mental health will make it more likely for them to reach out, creating an opportunity to align and support them. This is especially important as shift workers are at times on autopilot. They may not be as attuned to their bodies and minds due to the exhaustion they face; therefore, they may not attribute any new or even long-term symptoms to their shift work.
If you or someone you know may be struggling with the effects of shift work, please do not hesitate to reach out to our team at Balance Psychological Services. We are ready to listen.
About Balance Psychological Services
Balance Psychological Services is a psychological private practice aimed toward healing, growth, and balance. Our mission is to ensure that every person who walks through our doors feels seen and accepted for exactly who they are, no matter the circumstances they are facing. With offices conveniently located in Stony Plain, Edmonton, and Beaumont, we are here and ready to help you find your balance.
Information provided through Balance Psychological Services' blog posts is meant for educational purposes only. This is NOT medical or mental health advice. If you are seeking mental health advice, please contact us directly at (587) 985-3132.